The public comment period reopened by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September for two injection wells was limited only to the identification of drinking water wells within the specified area of one-quarter mile around each well.
"Considering that very few of the commenters addressed the question of the location of drinking water wells, submitting instead comments not relevant to that question, the Region does not expect that extending the reopening of the comment period on the one limited issue of the location of drinking water wells in the areas of review would result in better information about the location of such wells," the EPA said.
The EPA also said it received a number of public comments that "did not address the specific issue of the location of drinking water wells" which included "comments related to the construction and monitoring requirements for the wells, the plugging and abandonment plans for the wells, concern over nearby abandoned wells, fear of injection-induced seismicity, calculation of the area of review, and the request for mandatory testing of nearby drinking water wells, in addition to general opposition to the siting and construction of these wells.
"None of these comments raised substantial new questions that would justify a broader reopening."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initially approved permits for two disposal wells in Columbus Township in June 2011.
Residents Tom Stroup and Bill Peiffer filed a petition for review in response the following month and EPA Region III Assistant Regional Counsel Nina Rivera said their appeal was not warranted.
That decision was also appealed to the federal Environmental Appeals Board, which rejected the permits in July of this year, citing an inadequate account of drinking water wells within the area. It also rejected all other challenges brought by Stroup and Peiffer, which included the failure to account for the depth of water wells in Columbus Township; the number of wells in the area; the population growth in the township; possible adverse economic impacts; the potential for earthquakes; and accepting late-filed comments for the draft permit.
"The EAB remanded the permits to the region to clarify the record on the applicant's obligation to identify drinking water wells near the injection wells and on the data supporting the Region's finding that there are no drinking water wells within the areas of review," the EPA said in the responsiveness summary.
In September, the EPA concluded "there were no drinking water wells within the areas of review, and reopened the public comment period for 60 days to address the EAB remand," the responsiveness summary states.
Residents who commented during the initial period were sent a supplemental statement of basis and the request for further comment, which closed on Nov. 3.
Bear Lake Properties, the owner of the wells, was issued final permits to inject waste water from drilling into a depleted gas zone within the Medina Formation at depth between 4,200 and 4,300 feet on Nov. 29
The EPA's responses to the comments received during the period of Sept. 4 through Nov. 5 were addressed in a responsiveness summary and focused on the drinking water wells within the areas of review; public notification and opportunity for comment; and other comments.
"None of the commenters provided any information that identified drinking water wells within one-quarter mile areas of review around each proposed injection well," the EPA said.
The EPA received a comment that identified four water wells within one-quarter mile area of review of both wells.
"The Region has confirmed that these four wells were identified on maps provided by the permit applicant and are located outside the areas of review for the injection wells," the EPA said in the responsiveness summary.
Two other commenters submitted information to the EPA which identified a "cistern" within the area of review, which the EPA said is "not water wells in that they do not draw water from underground."
"Even if the "cistern" drew water from a well, because the permits impose conditions to protect even the lowermost underground source of drinking water (USDW), the injection wells do not endanger the purported "cistern" identified by the commenters," the EPA said.
The EPA also conducted a field inspection on Nov. 16 and identified the "cistern" as "an unprotected waterfilled wooden barrel, dug into the ground and located in the woods, which could not safely be used as a source of drinking water."
Further inspection found no piping or other infrastructure "that would suggest that the barrel is being used or has been used for drinking water."
The EPA did say the permits to injection wells would prohibit future drilling of drinking water wells.
On the topic of "Public notification and opportunity for comment" the EPA said commenters questioned the notification period to reopen public comment, with one organization indicating it couldn't access the supplemental statement of basis online an another commenter "pointed out that initially the online notice about the comment period had indicated that the wells were located in Columbia Township" instead of Columbus Township.
In response the EPA said, "For this reopening, the Region mailed approximately 300 notices to all of those who had submitted comments during the original comment period and to those who provided testimony during the hearing. These notices correctly indicated that the wells are located in Columbus Township."
The EPA also said it posted the notice of the reopened comment period online and the EPA "does not believe the error in the heading prevented the public from receiving notice or having a meaningful opportunity to comment."
The EPA and the state Department of Environmental Protection will hold a public meeting on the two wastewater disposal wells in Columbus Township.
The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the Columbus Township Volunteer Fire Department at 7 W. Main St.
Officials from both agencies will answer questions and discuss their roles in the permitting in the Underground Injection Control process.
"This is an opportunity for area residents to talk to both our staff and EPA about the roles we each play in the process," DEP Northwest Regional Director Kelly Burch said in a press release. "The people of Bear Lake asked for an opportunity to meet with us to get answers to their questions, and we want to ensure the process is transparent."